Fargo finale recap: The victors write their history
The chickens come home to roost in Fargo’s finale, bringing to a close a season of treachery and murder. If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the fourth installment of Noah Hawley’s TV series, it’s that few criminals live long enough to retire — including Loy, who learns that the only thing worse than waging a gangland war is winning one.
“Storia Americana” opens with a montage of dead faces (set to Johnny Cash’s “What Is Man”) that then segues into the sight of Ebal and Loy sitting on the same park bench where Loy previously met Donatello, Josto drunkenly mourning Gaetano’s death in an empty room, and Oraetta languishing in prison. Loy’s men finish moving their stuff out of the King of Tears Mortuary, and Lemuel drops the keys to the place in the palm of Thurman’s hand. “Impressive,” Lemuel says about Ethelrida wrestling back control of the place from his dad, to which Dibrell remarks, “Yes she is.”
Loy gives Donatello’s ring to Ebal. Oraetta makes bail courtesy of an unknown benefactor. Dr. Harvard announces to his staff that they had “a murderess right here under our own very roof” (i.e. Oraetta). After a jazzy sequence of despairing Josto smashing stuff in his house, the Fadda boss surprises Harvard in the hospital parking lot, whacking him and throwing him into the backseat of his car alongside his bloodied-and-bound father-in-law, Milvin. On a remote road, we see Josto leaning against the hood of his car, both Milvin and Harvard dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Josto’s lit cigarette ignites a puddle of gasoline beneath the vehicle, and as he walks away in slow-motion, it goes up in flames.
At the park, Loy tells Ebal that if he wants the war to be over, he has to get his house in order. Ebal replies, “I’ll get back to you.” Ebal departs, and in his car, he sits beside Zero, whom Loy has returned to the Faddas. Loy and the boy share a thankful and knowing smile before the car drives off.
In an operatic, slow-motion-drenched sequence indebted to The Godfather, Loy stands at his Gadfly Hotel suite window as Leon approaches from behind, ready to kill. Before Leon can fire his pistol, he’s strangled to death by Opal. At the same time, gunmen execute Happy in the Spud's All Time diner. Josto is awakened by Joe and informed, “We got Cannon — it’s over. We won.” At this good news, Josto heads out of his office and into the bar, where Ebal, Oraetta, and the rest of the crew are waiting.
Josto is surprised by this reception. Ebal says Josto is guilty of crimes against the family — namely, conspiring with Oraetta to murder his own father, Donatello. Josto denies this but Oraetta, possessed with a desire to be truthful, stands firm, recounting how Josto indirectly requested that she end the wounded mafioso’s life. They bicker about their rough-and-tumble sexual liaisons. Ebal believes the root of this problem is that the Faddas have for too long been run as a family business. “We live in the new world now. We need a new way.”
Ebal accuses Josto of both having Oraetta assassinate Donatello so he could wear the crown and murdering Gaetano so he wouldn't have to share his empire. Josto hears that New York has approved this maneuver, and he’s taken away — as is Oraetta. In the backseat of a Plymouth, Josto and Oraetta continue arguing. They’re led by Joe through a field to a freshly dug grave. Josto begs for mercy from Joe but to no avail. Oraetta asks if Josto can be killed first so she can watch him die. Joe complies, and Oraetta gazes down at Josto’s body with unholy delight — followed by a shot of her warped reflection in the car, a visualization of her demented nature. She’s then executed, her corpse tumbling into the grave next to Josto.
Loy drives his family home. He finds his front door ajar and goes inside with his gun drawn. He finds clothes on the floor, and a bowl of cereal on the table. Upstairs, he discovers Satchel sleeping on his bed (with Rabbit). Loy joyfully laughs as he hugs his son. Satchel runs downstairs and reunites with his euphoric mother.
A montage of Kansas City set to “America the Beautiful” concludes with a meeting between Loy and Ebal at the latter’s office. Loy is ready to get back to business, but Ebal surprises him with a few small adjustments to their deal. He hands Loy a piece of paper that reveals that those adjustments are, in fact, anything but small; the Faddas are taking half of Loy’s entire operation. Loy is furious, but Ebal says this is just part of the mob’s new national plan. He puts Loy in his place by stating, “You too are a national outfit, yes? Wait, no, you are one man in one city. What do they say? Big fish, small pond. But we are the sea.” Ebal knows Loy wants to kill him but advises his rival to see all the men figuratively standing behind him — “The wave that never ends.” He suggests Loy take a different view of this situation: “We are not taking half. We are leaving half.” If Loy doesn’t accept this reality, they’ll kill him and get someone else who will.
“End of story,” proclaims Ebal.
Loy accepts his defeat, and returns home, telling Opal, “It’s over.” With a grocery bag in his arms, he approaches his house and gazes inside at his happy family, seemingly content in the knowledge that he still has them, and that’s what matters most. His blissful reverie is short-lived, however; vengeful Zelmare suddenly appears and stabs Loy first in the back, and then multiple times in the chest. She gazes crazily into Loy’s fading eyes and says, “For Swanee.”
Satchel looks up from reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and sees Zelmare backing away from the window. He goes to the front door and opens it. Standing still with a bloody knife in her hand, Zelmare turns to the boy, puts her finger to her lips, and goes “Shhhh.” She drops the murder weapon and departs. Satchel goes to his father, who puts his hand to his son’s face. They stare into each other’s wide eyes as Loy dies.
Over a final montage of more of season 4’s characters, Ethelrida reads her completed school report both to her parents at their kitchen table and to us from a sitting chair in front of Loy’s copy of Henri Regnault’s “Summary Execution Under the Moorish Kings of Granada.” She states:
“History is a form of memory. But what does it mean to remember? We think naturally of our own past. Our lives, day by day. And through them, we see the events of our time. We are black and white. Rich and poor. Foreign-born and domestic. And yet if our pasts are separate, then aren’t our histories separate too? Segregated? Ask yourself — who writes the books? Who chooses what we remember and what gets forgotten? My name is Ethelrida Pearl Smutny. This is my history report.”
Ethelrida gets up from her sitting chair, grabs her suitcases, and leaves the frame to the sound of a final gunshot.
Fargo, however, isn’t quite finished. In a mid-credits coda, we see a car head down a road toward the horizon. Inside is Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), the Kansas City mob hitman from the show’s second season. As he’s driven by Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann), Milligan stares out the window, and his thoughts go to Satchel, revealing that they’re one and the same. Milligan snaps out of his daydream and begins practicing reloading his gun.
- The revelation that Satchel will grow up to be Mike Milligan is a stunning final link between this and prior seasons of Fargo. Yet it was telegraphed, subtly, by the fact that the Irish mobsters from the premiere were named “Milligan” — including Patrick, who grew up to be known as Rabbi, Satchel’s beloved caretaker. Thus, as an adult, Satchel goes into the crime trade and assumes Rabbi’s last name as his own, as a means of honoring him.
- Much. Slow-Motion.